• Published 31st Jul 2013
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The Advent of Applejack - Mister Friendly

Applejack has yet to truly know what it means to be a changeling...

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Chapter 22: Sting Like A Bee

The Ponyville Guard Station was a place of quiet tension. Even at night, guards moved along the fortified walls and amid the rows of barracks set up in the courtyard. Vigilance through diligence: that was Steel Shod’s motto, and all those under him lived by that motto, whether they wanted to or not.

A call went out, and the portcullis rose in the gatehouse, allowing a weary patrol inside the safety of the heavily fortified walls. It had been a long, boring day for most who returned. By all accounts, Ponyville was just as sleepy and mundane as ever, and that was during the daylight hours. At night not even birds stirred in the trees.

The tension caused by the attack two days prior had all but evaporated. Guards forced into double shifts were starting to grumble when nopony was listening, and many a thought turned towards distant loved ones. But never let it be said that a member of the Royal Guard ever shirked his duty for any reason.

Down in the courtyard, a member of the tired patrol paused to look up at the monolithic tower at the heart of the miniature keep. Most of it was still covered in scaffolding, and great chunks of the structure were still missing completely. Instead of a mighty pillar, the tower looked more like a tree trunk splintered by a lightning strike.

“Wonder what’s taking the princesses so long to call off the quarantine,” he grumbled. “Everything’s been so quiet all day.”

“And all night,” grunted his partner, who unceremoniously dropped his spear into a rack of similar weapons. “They probably have their reasons. Sure makes our jobs easier picking out the bad ones with all the goods ones in one place, right?”

“If there were any,” the first responded, rolling his eyes. “Seriously, what I wouldn’t give for a little action around here…”

His partner snorted. “Yeah right. I’m just waiting for all of this to finally blow over. My little filly has a dance recital tomorrow.” He then turned to look at the tower as well. “What do you think the captain’s been doing up there all day, anyway? He isn't usually one to coop himself up like this.”

“Besides blowing his top?” the first stallion said. “Who knows. From what I heard, he got it stuck to him pretty good by that changeling queen.”

“Oh great,” grumbled the second, glowering. “So he’ll probably be up there for a few more days, at least.”

“At least,” the first agreed with a chuckle. “I say let him. He ain’t missing much. And if he’s up there, he can’t jump down our throats.”

His partner laughed under his breath, and was just about to agree when the heavy doors to the tower swung open with a heavy creak. And out came the very pony they were just talking about. Steel Shod burst out of the tower, fully dressed in plate armor and carrying his weapon in a sheath at his side. He moved fast, marching with purpose across the yard.

“You and your big mouth,” the tired guard said to his partner, and both exchanged weary looks. And though they would have loved nothing more than to pretend they didn't see their superior, shrug off their heavy armory and hit the hay, both took up their spears once again and trudged in the captain’s direction. Never let it be said that the Guard shirked their duties.

They were halfway across the yard when the alarm bells starting clanging in the watchtowers along the walls. One glanced up at the nearest one looming on a nearby corner of the fort wall and frowned at it. “Now what’s going on?”

“If I had to guess,” The other said dourly, “you’re about to get your wish.”


Captain Steel Shod moved with purpose and determination not seen in him for many hours. He headed straight for the main gates, a grim glint in his eye. In his hoof, he carried a folded up piece of parchment. It bore no markings indicating where it might have come from or who sent it, but Steel Shod regarded it with a thoughtful frown every few paces.

Again he unfolded it and read the short communique on the other side. It couldn’t have been long – only two sweeps of his eyes and he’d finished. And when he was done, Steel Shod’s scowl grew deeper.

So then, that gelding got his wish.

Steel Shod crumpled the note up between his hooves, then tucked it into his collar. He was glaring angrily, but there was something else in him now. An opportunity had just presented itself, and he wasn’t about to let it slip away.

“Cadet,” he said tersely.

At his side, the unfortunate delivery pony trotted, hoping he would go totally unnoticed by his superior. When he was addressed, he jumped and stood up straight. “Sir?” the cadet responded, snapping to attention.

“Inform the division; we’re going to high alert.”

The cadet’s eyes grew huge. “We… we are?”

Steel Shod nodded. “This is a matter of life and death, son. A threat to all of Equestria has just appeared inside her borders. It can approach us from any direction at any time. I need you to make sure word gets out to the sergeants and that the weapon is put on standby. They will take care of the rest. Can you do that?”

The stallion gulped, but nodded heartily. “Y-yes sir! Right away, sir!”

Steel Shod nodded. “Good, good. Now, Go track down Sergeant Willow. I need to have a word with him.”

At this, however, the cadet paused. “Um, didn’t you already give him an assignment, sir?”

Steel Shod grew still. “Excuse me?”

The cadet’s excitement wilted under the cold, questioning look his superior gave him. “Well… after his debriefing on his reconnoiter into the Everfree, he... he departed on assignment almost immediately. He said his orders came from you.”

Steel Shod’s eyes narrowed. “Did he now?”


Pinkie Pie was in her element. A mixing bowl cradled expertly in one hoof and a whisk brandished in the other, she danced around Sugarcube Corner’s expansive kitchen. She skipped from one project to the next – a grand total of six batches of cookies and a cake – all the while singing happily to herself. Batter in her mane, flower patches blotting her coat and dough on her lips, she was as happy a pony as a pony could be. She could keep this rhythm up for hours!

She didn’t need much reason to celebrate on the average day, but since she knew that Applejack was on the mend, well, that was more cause to throw a party than ever before! Sure she was in Canterlot, but when she got back, oh boy, she was going to blow her holey hooves off with the shindig she was cooking up!

Pinkie paused improbably halfway across the room, a puzzled look on her face. Or should it be a hoedown? Hoedig? Shindown? Hmm… This would require further thought. But later; Oven # 4 was dinging.

Pinkie twirled on over, set her mixing bowl down and flipped open the oven. One full cookie sheet of Nuttery Buttery Cookie Deluxe MKVIII, done to perfection! She took the tray out and placed it carefully on the stove top, then peered at each one with a critical eye.

“Nuttyness… check. Butteryness… hmm…” she mumbled to herself, then popped one in her mouth. She chewed carefully, extruciatingly, and completely ignorant of the fact that it literally had just come out of an oven.

A minute later, she pouted. “Aw… I could’ve sworn I had it that time.” Then she beamed. “Oh well! Nuttery Buttery Cookie Deluxe MKIX, start!”

Pinkie scooped up her mixing bowl again, and was halfway across the kitchen to check on the cupcakes when a soft knocking brought her to a stop again.

Confused, she looked around. First, she eyed the kitchen appliances. Past experience told her that knocking or banging or gurgling or any strange sound was usually very, very bad. Mrs. Cake was still finding bits of burnt cookies from the last time an oven exploded. That tended to Happen more than one might think.

But Pinkie soon verified that the sound hadn’t come from any of the shiny new ovens or fans or stoves or sinks, or the automated mixer Pinkie wasn’t allowed to touch under any circumstances (Which was going to make getting the batter out of it a real challenge). When it sounded again, she homed in on the sound, and found it coming from the window over the main sink, namely from a holey black hoof, a matching form and two big, glowing blue eyes.

Pinkie blinked, a little curious as she armed the party cannon without thinking. The changeling’s flailing hooves gave her paused. Nonchalantly kicking the portable party howitzer out of sight, she trotted over to the window and pried it open. “Hi!” she greeted.

“U-um… hello… Pinkie Pie,” responded the would-be intruder in a voice that said she’d nearly peed herself in fright. Only her eyes peered over the sill, just in case another firearm appeared pointed in her general vicinity. “I-it’s me, Bumblebee. We kinda almost died together earlier today? Please don’t shoot me,” she added in a hushed undertone.

Pinkie smiled apologetically. “Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you might’ve been a cookie thief.”

Bumblebee gave her a perplexed look – the first of many. “C-cookie thief?”

Pinkie’s eyes narrowed. She glanced over Bumblebee’s head and up and down the street, critical of everything she spotted. “Can’t be too careful. When it comes to bakeries, it’s pony-eat-pony in these parts. Gotta keep the goods safe.”

She caught the eye of somepony down the street – a khaki mare with a trio of wrapped candies on her hips. Both stared each other down, Pinkie making “I’m watching you” motions all the while, while the other slowly placed a trash bag on the corner, then backed through a door, eyes narrowed in her direction. Then Pinkie turned to Bumblebee and beamed.

“So! Wanna cookie?”

Less than two minutes in Pinkie’s presence, and already Bumblebee was at a complete loss. So, she just nodded.

As Pinkie Pie moved away from the window, her guest carefully climbed in over the sink and into the kitchen. While Pinkie was preoccupied with selecting a peace offering, Bumblebee glanced out the window, first up the street, then down it, before quietly sealing it behind her.

“I didn’t know Steel Shod was letting changelings out again,” Pinkie commented from across the room.

Bumblebee winced. “Um… well… he’s… not,” she mumbled, looking at the floor.

Pinkie paused and frowned. “Wait, but if he’s not letting anyone out, and you are out, then…”

The realization drew a dramatic gasp from Pinkie and a look of terror from Bumblebee.

“P-please don’t tell the Guard,” Bumblebee squeaked out quickly. “I just had to get out. I can’t take it! I need to find… t-to find…”


Bumblebee blinked. “Wha…?”

Pinkie beamed back in total understanding. “You need to find Cloudkicker!”

Another slow, stunned blink, then Bumblebee said slowly, “Uh… sure, okay. I’m looking for Cloudkicker.”

Pinkie giggled. “I knew it! My second guess was going to be Applejack, but what’re the chances of that, right?”

Bumblebee’s laugh was quite awkward indeed. “Ha ha, yeah, what’re the chances. You… wouldn’t happen to, maybe… know where Applejack is, though, would you? S-since you brought it up and all…”

Pinkie stopped to think, then said in one big breath, “Well, she’s either in Canterlot, ooooor in a deep dark forest somewhere succumbing to an ancient curse that’ll rob her of all reason and turn her into a deranged monster bent on devouring all the love in Equestria if not the world! Either, or.”

Bumblebee just stared wide-eyed at her and started to turn pale.

“But she’s probably in Canterlot,” Pinkie beamed. “Cookie?”

Bumblebee numbly accepted the treat, but didn’t eat it. Her head was starting to spin. “So… so she is in Canterlot,” Bumblebee mumbled.

“Maybe!” Pinkie said, popping up over the counter for just a moment before vanishing again. Oven #2 was dinging. “Wherever she is, I’m sure she’s fine and totally not about to ravage the countryside on a quest to fill an un-fillable hole in her being!”

Bumblebee grew paler. She placed her cookie on a nearby plate when Pinkie wasn’t looking. She wasn’t hungry anymore.

Meanwhile, Pinkie pulled out another piping hot tray filled to maximum capacity with plump chocolate chip cookies. She quickly placed it on the stove top to cool, and immediately shoved an awaiting tray into the now-vacant oven, set the timer with a flick of her hoof, and turned back towards Bumblebee, beaming bright as usual.

“I don’t know where Cloudy is, but you can stay here if you want. Baking is fun, but baking with friends is funner!”

As confusing and high-speed as Pinkie was, that last comment drew Bumblebee up short. “F…Friends?” she said, sounding like she’d never heard the word before.

“Yep!” Pinkie chirped. “Friends!”

“I’m… I’m your friend? I’m… not used to having friends. I mean, everypony acts nice, but I know I’m weird and… and stuff. But, you want to be my friend?”

“Of course, silly!” Pinkie beamed. “Everypony is my friend, but you saved Applejack, Rainbow, Nana and me from that nasty monster in Murmuring Swamp. That makes us super good friends!”

Bumblebee blinked at her, awestruck. Then, as if unsure about it, she started to smile. “Okay… Okay! I’ll be your friend, too! Friends… That sounds…”

She hadn’t even finished when several things happened at once. Firstly, she realized that, inexplicably, there was an apron around her neck now, and the whoosh of a high speed pink pony in the air. The ladle stuck awkwardly in one leg hole, she had no explanation for. “… Great?” Bumblebee finished apprehensively. It was starting to dawn on her that maybe she didn’t know what she was getting herself into.

Pinkie beamed brightly, just as there was a knock on the far door.

“Pinkie Pie?” called Mrs. Cake’s muffled voice. “Is everything alright in there? You’re not touching the Mix-a-tron 3000, are you?” she added with a sterner tone of voice.

“Of course not!” Pinkie responded, as she broke an egg into the automatic mixing bowl – without touching it herself, of course. “I haven’t touched it at all!”

“Good, good,” Mrs. Cake said through the door, though she sounded suspicious. She’d seen the way Pinkie’s eyes sparkled when they’d first unboxed the brand new – and VERY expensive – kitchen appliance. “Well, it’s getting very late, dearie. So, please try to keep it down in there.”

“Okie dokie, Mrs. Cake!” Pinkie chimed back brightly. “Just two more batches and I’ll be done!”

Hooves hesitated on the other side of the door. Then, after a few moments, Mrs. Cake ambled away towards the front of the store.

Once she was gone, Bumblebee emerged from her hiding place beneath one of two sinks. As soon as she was out in the open, Pinkie rounded on her. Her expression was half excited, half apologetic. “Um… could you, maybe, get that batter out of the Mix-a-tron 3000 for me?” she asked sheepishly.


Quickly she trotted over, hyper aware of everything she did. She’d just made a friend – she didn’t want to ruin it already.

The Mix-a-tron 3000, she found out, was just an automated whisk and stirring device, still shiny and with that fresh-out-of-the-box smell. She fretted for a moment, then located the big red button with a stop sign printed on it, hit that, and carefully retrieved the huge bowl of fresh cookie batter once the heavy duty – and mildly terrifying – mixing apparatus had slowed to a halt.

When she turned around, bowl floating over her head in her telekinetic grip, she found Pinkie standing in one place for once, a strange look on her face. “It really is late, huh?” she said.

“Um… yes,” Bumblebee mumbled back. “About midnight, I think…”


Bumblebee cocked her head slightly, looking worried at Pinkie’s sudden melancholy. “Um… I’m sorry if this might be a little personal… you don’t have to answer if you want, but… why are you baking so late at night?” she asked as she set the batter down. “Is… is something bothering you? Because, um, friends listen to other friends’ problems, right? Is that what they do?”

Pinkie looked around, then shook her head quick. “Oh, nononono, nothing’s wrong. Just thinking!” Then with a bounce, she moved to another stove. “Applejack sure is taking a while, huh? But that’s okay! As long as she’s okay, I’m okay, too! And as long as she’s with Twilight and the princesses, she will be A-okay, which is even better!”

Bumblebee frowned slightly at her. She wasn’t much of a pony-person; she could never read others very well. But even as socially inept as she was, something about Pinkie’s behavior bothered her. She wanted to say something – kind of. But… it really wasn’t her business, right? She didn’t want to be nosy after just making a friend. That would be rude, right? And Applejack was always telling everyone to be on their best behaviors around ponies.

She closed her open mouth and resolved to just silently sit back and let Pinkie do her thing, when a heavy thump in another room caused her ear to prick up.

Pinkie heard it, too, and she paused, flower bag in her mouth. “What was that?”

There was a commotion on the other side of the kitchen door. Voices, some of them raised, a clambering and clattering of things being pushed around, and several heavy hooves drawing closer.

“W-wait, you can’t just-!” cried out Mrs. Cake’s voice in protest, right as the door banged open.

In came a group of burly, armor-clad stallions, all wearing identically dour expressions. At the front of the pack was a thin, weasely fellow with deep dark circles under his eyes and a creepy grin on his face.

“For the last time, lady,” he drawled, barely paying Mrs. Cake any attention at all, “this is official Guard business, so do me a favor and stay out of my way.”

Mrs. Cake spluttered something about papers and rights, but was summarily blocked off behind two humongous stallions barring the kitchen door like a pair of living barricades.

On the other side of them, two more guards walked in step behind the first, who had his eyes set on Pinkie Pie. His unsettling grin grew. “Ah, just the mare I was looking for,” he said in what was probably meant to be a friendly tone. “Pinkamena Diane Pie, I take it?”

Pinkie Pie cocked her head to one side and glanced between the stallions in front of her. “Um, yeah,” she said back, though now her smile was gone. “But everypony just calls me Pinkie Pie.”

“Good! Good,” giggled the thin stallion. “My name is Sergeant Willow. A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Pinkie blinked. A stranger in Ponyville that she didn’t know about? Something fishy was going on here, because there wasn’t anypony she didn’t know in Ponyville. Something super-duper-tuna-fishy…

“I simply hate to do this at such a late hour,” Willow said, his voice absolutely dripping with sarcasm, “but I’m afraid we’re going to have to ask you to come with us. Official orders from Princess Celestia you see; we are to ensure your safety in a very safe place. Why, who knows what could happen to you if you didn’t come with us. I absolutely shudder to think of the possibilities.”

“You’re not shuddering,” Pinkie pointed out.

“It’s a figure of speech. Now, if you would?” He moved to one side, and motioned towards the door.

Pinkie was openly frowning in suspicion by now. “I don’t know…”

“Oh don’t say that,” Willow pouted fictitiously. “After all the trouble we went through to throw you a welcome party?”

At the word ‘party’, Pinkie gasped. “Oh! Well why didn’t you say so?”

Willow grinned wider. Just as Pinkie took one bounce in the direction of the door, a cupboard between both groups burst open, and out tumbled a frantic Bumblebee.

“S-stop!” she yelped, throwing herself between Pinkie and Willow. “Pinkie, it’s a trap!”

Pinkie paused. “But… parties can’t be traps, not even surprise parties,” she said dubiously.

“They are if somepony lies about them!”

Pinkie’s eyes grew huge, as huge as dinner plates and she drew in a stiff breath through her nose. “Nopony lies about parties,” she breathed in a quiet, quiet voice.

By now, however, all attention had shifted away from Pinkie, and was now resting squarely on the one-hundred-percent undisguised, apron-wearing changeling standing right in the middle of the kitchen.

It soon dawned on Bumblebee as well that she’d made a big mistake. Maybe sparing the apron had been a bad idea. She turned slowly, to find two glares and one leer aiming at her.

“Well, well, well,” Willow sneered. “What do we have here? A little lamb out of its pen? Well this simply won’t do at all. Now I’m afraid we’ll have to take both of you down for questioning. Maybe…?” he glanced meaningfully over his shoulder, positively grinning now as he cast a look in the direction of Mrs. Cake’s voice. “You never can be too sure, after all. We might have to interrogate the whole lot of you.”

Bumblebee turned to face the hulking stallions bearing down on her, and tried with all her might not to shrivel up on the floor. “N-no,” she stuttered.

Willow raised an eyebrow and slowly turned back around. “Excuse me?”

Bumblebee tried to look fierce, but she was so torn by terror that it didn’t quite shine through. “I-I’m not going back. I’m going to find Queen Applejack. I am! And I w-won’t let you do anything to her… m-my friends anymore! S-so you-you better leave right now. Or else!”

The three stallions stared down at her with looks of shock. The sheer audacity on display was both baffling and stunning.

“Or else?” Willow repeated, at a complete loss over the sheer gall it must take to utter such a thing to him of all ponies. “Are you threatening me, little lamb? Do you have any idea who I am, or did you miss the Sergeant title?”

Bumblebee was shaking, head to hoof. But her teeth her gnashed together, her ears flipped back, and a quivering hiss was issuing through her fangs. Her wings thrummed threateningly, and if she had been bigger, it might have been quite a threatening display. Her knees knocking together ruined it, however. “I-I am!” she bleated. “And I mean it!”

Willow just sneered more. “Oh I’m sure you think you do,” he chuckled condescendingly. “Well, after a day like today, I could use a little… stress relief.” He punctuated each of the last two words by popping his neck one way, then another. “First those changelings make a fool of me in the Everfree, and now you take me for a fool. I’d say it’s time I set the record straight.”

Pinkie Pie gasped, but when she went to rush to Bumblebee’s side, she found a changeling wing blocking her way.

“So tell me, little lamb,” Willow taunted as he slunk forward, his backup right on either side of him, “what exactly can you do to me, hmm?”

Bumblebee trembled, but continued to hold her ground. “I… I have a temper,” she warned.

All three stallions stared, then burst into laughter. “Ooooh, a temper!” Willow jeered. “Well that changes everything!” Even as he said it, he advanced another step.

“I-it should,” Bumblebee said back. “B-because it’s really bad, and I really hate losing it. Please, just go away. Applejack will be so mad if I hurt anypony, including you.”

Her warning only drew more scornful laughter from the gang in front of her. “Oh, I don’t think you have to worry about that,” Willow chuckled darkly. Then, he motioned with a flick of one hoof at her. “Guards, get rid of… this,” he ordered. “Oh, and make sure the pink one is as… lightly jostled as possible, would you? Equestria’s going need its heroes before long, I daresay.”

Pinkie frowned slightly. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Willow gave her a distracted look. “Hmm? Oh, nothing, I assure you. I’d be more concerned with matters at hoof, yes?”

The two stallions sighed and stepped forward. Neither really wanted to have to beat down the little changeling; she was so slight and delicate-looking. Maybe they could just shove her to one side, maybe stuff her in a cupboard or knock her unconscious. Neither expected an actual fight from the tiny thing.

Bumblebee didn’t budge an inch, even as her knees started going wobbly beneath her. She looked pleadingly at one of the stallions moving towards her. Already he’d cast his gaze right past her and towards Pinkie Pie behind her.

She didn’t want to do this. She swore. She swore she’d never do it again. It was the only reason she’d been let out; because she swore to be good. But…

That makes us super good friends!

“P-Pinkie,” Bumblebee said quickly, voice shaking.


“No matter what, stay behind me, A-and don’t make a sound,” she said. “I-I won’t hurt you if I don’t see you.”

Pinkie gave her a confused look, as the lead thug closed the distance, and raised a hoof. “Out of the way, little bug,” he grunted, and swung. Pinkie cried out, but even she wasn’t fast enough to stop the massive hoof as it came swinging down, straight into Bumblebee’s face.

And that, as it turned out, was the worst possible thing they could have done.


Changelings, by their very nature, are not a violent species. What might be their most powerful warrior one day may become their most feeble in the span of a few hours. And so, martial prowess is not a trait that describes most changelings.

But there is one exception. An exception born once out of every fifty thousand eggs. A volatile, dangerous exception. Most suffering from this rare condition are put down, for the good of the hive’s continued security. Those allowed to live are kept isolated from the rest of the hive, to be unleashed only when absolutely necessary. At best, this means these select drones grow up awkward and antisocial. At worst, it turns them feral, bereft of any form of higher intelligence.

No one knows the cause. Was it once a talent honed by an ancient cadre of elite warriors? Was it some sort of quirk, a magical mutation coalescing in only a few individuals in a race of magically forged creatures?

Whatever the cause, these individuals are uniquely branded, outliers in the otherwise uniform rank and file of the changeling hives. To the changelings, they are referred to as Spada – weapons, for that was the only purpose they could possibly serve. But there is also another name that describes them just as accurately…


Mrs. Cake was in a huff. Being pushed around in her own shop, of all places, and by the Royal Guard! Her opinion of them was already stained after the mess they made of Sugarcube Corner that night six months ago, but now this? Well she wasn’t going to stand for it anymore!

Quickly she stormed up the stairs to the apartment over the bakery itself. There, she found her husband in the twins’ room, both hooves occupied as he rocked the two foals to sleep.

They were having none of it, however. Both Pound and Pumpkin Cake were crying at maximum volume, despite their father’s best efforts.

When Mrs. Cake walked in, Carrot Cake looked up, a helpless expression on his tired face. It seemed that their wailing had woken him up, as well. “Oh, pudding! I don’t know what’s gotten into them,” he said, sounding at his wit’s end. “I put the twins down for the night and everything went… better than usual, actually, when I heard the front door open, and Pumpkin started crying up a storm. And you know, when one starts…” he trailed off with a weak laugh.

As his chuckling faded, he noticed the deep scowl on his wife’s face. “Um… pudding… is everything alright?”

Mrs. Cake glowered from the doorway. “Oh, just dandy,” she huffed. “Only the Guard all but kicked down our door and stormed the kitchen without any paperwork giving them permission or anything!”

Carrot Cake’s eyes grew huge. “Say what?”

But his wife wasn’t listening. “Of all the nerve! I have half a mind to file a complaint at town hall! Oh I said it,” she added, seeing the scandalized look on Carrot’s face. “I have had it up to here with their antics and I won’t stand for it any longer!”


All ponies in the room felt what could only be described as an earthquake, and the epicenter was right under their house. Every wall shook, knocking loose a number of pictures. The floor quaked, setting a startled portly baker down on her backside.

Downstairs, a pony shouted so loud the ponies upstairs heard it. And then, another heavy crash shook through the house. Lights flickered, books in the bookcase tumbled out one by one, and a dresser toppled.

Not only could Mrs. Cake hear things breaking – big things, things that should not be broken – but she could feel each crash and thud in the floor itself, like it was the bakery taking the brunt of the abuse. Struts in the walls groaned audibly, but somehow held firm.

The sounds of destruction were suddenly on the move. In a split second, heavy smashes and what could only be described as an explosion or two rocked Sugarcube Corner from one end of the lower floor to the other, passing directly under the nursery in a heartbeat.

Then, all was disturbingly quiet as the power flickered, then died. That got the twins shrieking.

“What in the good name of Celestia was that?” Mrs. Cake cried out, terrified.

Carrot Cake, who’d barely moved except to dodge the dresser, gave his wife a wide-eyed, confused look. “Didn’t… didn’t that come from the kitchen?”

It took Mrs. Cake all of two seconds to put things together in her head. “Pinkie!”

She stopped only to grab a rolling flashlight off the floor, and was out the door and down the flight of stairs faster than most ponies half her age could go. She hit the landing, slid a few inches, and scrambled down the hallway adjoining the front of the store to the back, where the kitchen and pantry were.

She made it all of five feet before slowing to a stunned halt.

In front of her, her beam of light revealed a scene of total ruin. Where the doorway to the kitchen was supposed to stand – along with a carriage-sized portion of the wall around it – there was now an empty, gaping hole punched straight through timber frame and dry wall. A water pipe hung mangled from the ceiling, dumping a steady stream straight into the rubble-strewn hallway.

But it didn’t stop there. The wall opposite the kitchen had been knocked out as well, and beyond, the pantry was all but destroyed. Bags of flower, sugar, cinnamon and yeast lay gutted, their contents exploded around the room and hanging in the air like a white and brown fog. And beyond that, yet another wall had been bulldozed, exposing the crisp night air and the streets of Ponyville to her searching flashlight.

It was as if a train had just blown, full speed, straight through her shop and back out. There was no trace of the rude guards, or…

“Pinkie!” Mrs. Cake shouted.


Mrs. Cake froze, then spun around. Standing alone in the kitchen, staying as perfectly still as she could, was Pinkie Pie. She stood just a few feet from where the destruction began, and by the harrowed look on her face, she’d seen everything. Whatever had happened, it had drained all the color from Pinkie Pie’s face.

“Oh thank heavens,” Mrs. Cake breathed a sigh of relief. She clambered over the wreckage littering the floor and made for Pinkie's location. “Are you alright, dearie? What happened?”

Pinkie still didn’t move. Not even her eyes. Then, all at once, she broke down and let out a wail. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Cake! I touched the Mix-a-tron 3000! I couldn’t help it! It was just so shiny! I Pinkie Promise I’ll never, ever, ever touch or not touch but still technically touch it ever again!”

Mrs. Cake blinked at her, then offered a small smile. “Oh dearie, it’s alright. We can buy as many appliances as we need. Just so long as you’re okay.” She rushed over and hugged Pinkie tightly. She’d be mad at her later, but for now, relief was the prevailing emotion.

Pinkie sat on the ground and wiped her eyes. All the while, she continued to stare at the corridor of destruction hammered through the bakery and out into the dark night outside.

“What happened, Pinkie?” Mrs. Cake questioned, looking over her shoulder and out the hole in the side of Sugarcube Corner. “Did the Guard do this?”

Pinkie didn’t say anything at first, then shook her head. “No. Well, sorta. S-she warned them.”

Mrs. Cake gave her a confused look. “Who? What happened?”

Pinkie started looking anxious, and what little color had returned quickly drained away again. “Bumblebee has a scaaaaaaaaaaary temper,” she squeaked.


It was in a pitch black, dingy alley that Sergeant Willow finally doubled over, panting heavily. One of his cronies staggered behind him and leaned against an alley wall, just as out of breath. The three other subordinates originally accompanying him were nowhere to be found.

“What in the sweet name of Celestia is that thing?” Willow gasped out between breaths. His heart continued to pound at a million miles an hour, and though he was covered in sweat, he was shivering.

“I dunno,” the big stallion behind him grunted, “but I think it’s gone.”

A loud crash out on the street made them both stiffen. Willow hissed, and both dove for cover behind piles of uncollected trash bags and a dumpster. Both of them cowered in the darkness, too afraid to move.

From the other side of their hiding place, sounds reached them.

Something snuffled at the ground, taking big, long sniffs before snorting loudly. A heavy hoof impacted the dirt road, producing an audible thump. A low, menacing snarl reverberated through the air, issuing from large, powerful lungs.

Another heavy step, and suddenly a faint, pale blue light swept across the alley. Willow grew as still as a statue and curled himself up into as small a shape as he possibly could.

Sniff… sniff…

Willow could feel his fur crawling, like there were a hundred ants suddenly scurrying all across his body. He could taste ozone and feel an ominous tingle on his scalp. The sensation came in waves, like they were rolling off whatever was looming at the mouth of the alleyway.

Another heavy step. The creature placed a hoof inside the alley, snarling louder now. And then, just as Willow was considering how far he’d make it if he bolted, he heard a faint thump on the buildings on either side of him.

The creature snorted, its hooves scraping the dirt. But again, Willow heard the same small sound from very high up on the walls.

It was then that he realized what was happening. The creature couldn’t fit down the alley. On the one hoof, he was saved! On the other… how big did that make the monster chasing him?

The feeling of static electricity worsened quite suddenly. A loud, frustrated snarl rent the air as shoulders grinded against unyielding brick and mortar. Then, with a huff… it was gone.

The pale blue light vanished. The intense sensation of static abated. The creature moved so abruptly, and so swiftly, that if Willow had blinked, he’d have missed it. Out on the road, he could hear the creature’s hooves pounding the dirt as it lumbered away. Another crash made him flinch, and out on the street, it caused a few lights to flick on in bedrooms.

Willow swallowed, then carefully straightened up. He first peered over the dumpster he was hiding behind, verified that the coast was clear, then edged up to the corner of the alley. He leaned only one eye around, and quickly peered down the street. The only thing that marked the creature’s passage was the line of toppled lamp posts, all now lying on their sides in the street, lights out.

And in the distance, vanishing through a row of trees on the edge of town, he witnessed an immense shape, blacker than the moonlit night. Green light danced across its hind legs, burning through joints and outlining each hole in each muscular leg.

As the foliage fell around it, Willow witnessed a bolt of emerald lightning leap from the creature’s hide, strike a tree, and bring the whole thing down in its wake. The cacophony of the tree’s crashing made Willow wince, especially when doors up and down the street started to swing open.

Sleepy-eyed mares and stallions stepped out into the night. Most rubbed their eyes or squinted through heavy lids, peering around for the culprits of all the ruckus at this late hour. Some were alert enough to grab flashlights and cast glow spells as they stepped out on the street and beheld the perplexing sight of the toppled lamps.

“What’s going on?” A lemon-colored mare inquired, rubbing her eyes and ruffling her wings.

A brown stallion paused halfway out his door, his horn illuminating the closest downed pole. “Whoa… What happened here?”

“All of them…? Who could have done this…?”

Murmuring broke out up and down the street and grew in confusion the more time passed. And just when Willow was sensing it was about time to high-tail it out of there, a beam of light swept onto him. Like a deer he froze instinctively in place as several ponies hesitated, then approached. All of them had questions on their faces.

“You’re with the guard, right?” one asked.

“Did you see what happened?” another inquired, sounding anxious.

It was nothing compared to how Willow felt. “Now, now,” Willow said, trying to stifle his nervousness. “Everything is under control. There is no need to –”

On the edge of town, a tall tree came crashing down. The air was filled with the sounds of snapping limbs and the thunderous impact of the tree’s trunk hitting the ground – and a deafening, carrying bellow that echoed across the countryside.

Everypony stared in the direction of the terrifying roar, eyes widening. Then, all together, they all turned towards the Guard sergeant and his cohort, seeking answers. Instead, they found empty space, and a faint dust trail leading around the nearest corner and conveniently out of sight.


“Okay… okay, we can still salvage this…”

Willow’s only remaining companion gave him an incredulous look. “Are you crazy? Did you see the size of that thing? We are in way over our heads with this one!”

Willow hissed at him. “Just shut up and let me think, you idiot! Whatever that thing was, it’s not important. Let it run amok out in the Everfree for all I care! No, what is important right now is getting that cursed pink pony under wraps before the boss finds out about this mess.”

“And then what?” Pinkie asked.

Willow sneered. “Then we just wait it out until we get the signal, then – GAH!”

Willow jumped five feet in the area, springing away from the impossibility bouncing along at his side. He leapt so far that he struck his companion, and both went tumbling end over end several times before coming to a stop in a heap.

Groaning, Willow shook his head in an effort to clear the little popping lights dancing in front of his eyes. “Ugh… this night could not possibly get any worse,” he groaned, straightened up, and turned muzzle-to-muzzle with a fully loaded, fully armed howitzer of the celebratory variety.

On the other end, Pinkie gave Willow a withering look. “Nopony. Lies. About parties.” She intoned.

And in the next moment, Willow was proven woefully wrong: Things could most definitely get much worse.


Rage. Frustration. Helplessness. Fear.

These and their countless facets swirled inside Bumblebee, burning hot and howling like a gale, drowning out all else. Lost in the maelstrom consuming her mind, there was only a single thought – a single prerogative – that she clung to.

She could not hurt anypony.

Amid the tumult of bottled up emotions rampaging through her with utter impunity, that one driving goal was like a life preserver in a raging storm. It was the only shard of herself she could make sense of.

She felt turned inside out, upside down, backwards… Everything she kept on the inside, flung out into the world for all to see. So desperately vulnerable, so open… All she could do was lash out, unable to resist the fainted impulse.

But that idea, that single point of herself, she clung to it. She could not hurt anypony. She absolutely could not. The very thought of it filled her with crushing dread. She drove herself deeper into the forest, away from the dangerous place filled with lights and threats.

That made sense to her primitive instincts, the only thing that held sway anymore. The city was a bad, dangerous place filled with things that would try to hurt her.

She had to go somewhere safe. Somewhere safe…

In the back of her mind, she knew where she was going, but no voice cautioned her. So through the forest she went, trampling underbrush and blowing apart any obstacle too big to push through.

Another lance of magic vented off of her, struck a tree, and sent it toppling out of her way. And as its lowest branches vacated her path, she saw her destination.

Across a field of gently swaying grass, there was a house. As far as Ponyville houses went, it was dim-a-dozen; thatched roof, tall and rustic. Nopony would have picked it out as something special from either of its close neighbors.

But Bumblebee knew it was special. It was somewhere safe. She broke cover and began to cross the field, her eyes fixed on her destination. Halfway across, some part of her brain registered the fact that the lights were still shining in the windows. And as she drew closer, she noticed a shape in one of the upstairs windows move. Then, it vanished.

When the back door creaked open, Bumblebee paused. In the doorway, a pony looked out across the field towards her. In the light of the moon, nopony could have missed her hulking form, and the pony most certainly didn’t.

Bumblebee felt her lip curling, a warning snarl issuing from her throat. But instead of retreating, the door pushed open wider, and the pony stepped out into the cool night.

It was a mare, a pegasus so familiar even Bumblebee’s primitive mind could recognize her from afar. Slowly, her snarl faded. In the pale moonlight, her normally blonde mane was bleached silver. Her coat was dull gray, its usual coloration faded as well. She watched the behemoth in front of her carefully, pausing after a few strides. “…Bumblebee?” she asked tentatively. “Is… is that you?”

Bumblebee stared down at the mare. She felt turned inside out, upside down, backwards… Everything she kept bottled up, everything she kept hidden from everypony else, on display to be judged and mocked. Everything she was ashamed of, everything she was afraid of, everything she wanted absolutely nopony to know about…

The mare slowly drew closer. Bumblebee could sense her fear, but she didn’t back away.

“Bumblebee?” she spoke again. “It’s okay. It’s just me.”

She was so close now that Bumblebee could see her mane flutter with the wind issuing from her nostrils. Each snort ruffled her mane, yet she continued drawing closer.

“It’s okay,” she said again, raised a hoof, and gently touched Bumblebee’s chest.

A shudder ran through her body. The tumult inside Bumblebee’s mind quavered, then began to ebb. Her bones started to groan as they shrank. Her body, inflated by unleashed magic and feeling, deflated, muscle by muscle. Slowly, the world grew around her, until the mare appeared as big as the world.

Yet she still felt inside out.

Bumblebee took a deep, shuddering breath – the first in what felt like years. She could think again, her mind empty of howling, bestial rage.

But before she could say a single thing, her body gave out on her. She collapsed onto the grass, limp as a noodle.

When next she could make sense of her surroundings, she found herself lying flat on her side on the cold, hard earth amid tall stalks of silvery grass. She had no strength left, not even enough to pick her head up. Yet… her head was up.

“Bee? Bee! Talk to me!” called out a voice. That voice was connected to a pair of hooves holding her head. It was connected to a pair of eyes staring down at her with real fear now.

Bumblebee had to force her lips to part, and even when she did manage to speak, it was in a pitifully small voice. “C…C…loudy…?” she breathed. “Is…that…?”

The mare smiled down at her in relief. “It’s me, Bee,” she promised.

Bumblebee tried to lift her head, but the muscles simply wouldn’t respond. “Did… did I hurt…?”

“Nopony,” was the vehement answer she got back. “You didn’t hurt anypony. You did really, really good.”

Bumblebee closed her eyes. It took all the effort she could muster, but she managed to roll over slightly and bury her face against the fuzzy chest of the one holding her. It was safe there, safe from the cold, dark night.

“I was so scared,” she mumbled. “I didn’t want to… But they were going to… take…”

Bumblebee groaned, and for a dangerous moment, her eyesight dimmed. “Cloudy… I’m scared…”

The hooves tightened around her. “Not while I’m around, Bee. Come on; I’m going to get you someplace safe. Can you walk?”

Bumblebee whined, her eyes starting to glisten. “I… I can’t feel my legs,” she said. “I used up… used up everything I had.”

“Well then, I’m just going to have to carry you.”

Bumblebee felt herself get hefted up off the ground by a pair of strong hooves. She was cradled against a fuzzy chest.

“Don’t you worry, Bee. I’ll keep you safe. I promise.”


Cloudkicker bucked open the door to her bedroom and swiftly made her way inside. In her hooves, Bumblebee lolled like a lifeless ragdoll. Looking at her, Cloudkicker wasn’t sure what was scarier; this Bumblebee or the behemoth she’d been just minutes before.

“You still with me, Bee?” she asked, trying to keep her worry down.

“Uh-huh,” was the weak response she got. “I just… I need some rest and… and I’ll right as rain in no time.”

Cloudkicker almost chuckled at the forced levity in Bumblebee’s voice. the little drone could tell she was worried – she always could.

Quickly crossing the room, Cloudkicker gingerly lowered the frail changeling down onto the bed as slowly as possible. She considered it a good sign that Bumblebee didn’t wince or make any sort of noise as she did so.

She finished pulling down the comforter… then paused.

Bumblebee looked up at her. “What?”

Cloudkicker chuckled, sounding a little embarrassed. “Well, uh… just thinking. Didn’t think this was how I’d get you in here.”

To her amusement, Bumblebee’s eyes grew huge, and she turned bright red. “S-sorry…”

“It’s fine, worrywart,” Cloudkicker dismissed. “Just pretend I didn't say anything. All I want you to do is focus on getting better, okay? You just leave everything else to me.”

Cloudkicker finished draping the blanket over Bumblebee and smiled down at her. “I’m gonna go lock some doors,” Cloudkicker told her. “Be right back.”

But right as she turned away, a holey hoof snagged hers.

With about a million different romantic clichés running through Cloudkicker’s tentatively hopeful mind, she turned back around. But the look Bumblebee was giving her was not a potentially inviting one.

Bumblebee look up at her, dread on her face. She hung onto Cloudkicker’s hoof with the desperation of a dying pony, tighter than the pegasus thought she could squeeze anything.

“Cloudy… P-please… you have to find Applejack,” she said, her voice still weak.

Cloudkicker raised any eyebrow. “Uh… why? What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” Bumblebee whined. “But… b-but something is really, really wrong with her. I think something terrible has happened.”

Cloudkicker blinked, then scoffed. “Pfft, to AJ? Not if the boss has anything to say about it.”

But Bumblebee remained unconvinced. “Please, Cloudy, please. You have to find her for me. B-before…”

“Before what?” Cloudkicker asked, her brows pulling together.

Bumblebee paled. “B-before she does something really, really awful…”


“Oi, wake up.”

The guard pony snorted as a hoof struck him upside the head, jolting him back to wakefulness. He snapped his head around blearily, before his eyes settled upon the irritated fellow seated next to him.

Both of them were sitting in a watchtower that stood alone amongst an endless expanse of woodlands. It rose taller than the nearby trees, affording them a peerless view over the forest that surrounded them in all directions. Beneath them, a wide road meandered through the brush before disappearing several hundred yards in front of them. The road was a main thoroughfare for travelers and goods going in and out of the region, and the watchtower was there to make sure nothing sinister took place along this stretch of the highway.

It was rare, however, for the post to be manned so late into the night. The two watch ponies, well into their second shift by now, were not used to the late hours, and even with a steady supply of coffee, it was starting to take its toll.

“Oh let me sleep,” the older of the two watchers complained and turned away, intent on finding a more comfortable position again. “Ain’t anything going on, anyway. It’s the dead of night. Only fools up this late are us two.”

The younger fellow – a greenhorn only a week into his job – frowned at him. “You really want to get on Steel Shod’s bad side?”

“Ah, who cares about him,” his companion snapped. “Everypony knows he’s on his way out the door. All he has us doing out here is chasing more ghosts, as usual.”

“And if something does happen?” the greenhorn asked pointedly.

“Then I’ll eat my horseshoe!”

The greenhorn rolled his eyes, turned away, and watched as a distant tree disappeared from sight. He frowned and narrowed his eyes in that direction. Had he just been seeing things?

A second later, it happened again; a tree shuddered, then dropped away. Only this time, he heard a distant thump and the unmistakable sound of cracking branches.

“Oi, Trotter.”

The old stallion grumbled loudly. “Give it a rest, already!”

“Trotter,” he persisted. “Wake up.”

The sleepy fellow cracked open one irritated eye, then straightened up. “What is it now?” he growled.

The private didn’t need to say anything when the night air was split by the sound of crashing timber. The older stallion frowned, then turned around. “What they hay was that?” he asked, as another tree came down, this one so close they could see it quiver just before toppling over.

Pigeons took flight, cooing in terror as their roost reverberated with an unseen impact, and then before the eyes of two stunned guards, the entire tree was tossed a dozen yards to the left, bringing down still more of the forest.

The two stared, pale-faced, at where the demolished tree had landed. Then, slowly, they turned back to look ahead, as a long leg emerged from the underbrush.

Applejack stepped out onto the road with slow yet purposeful strides. Her eyes stayed pinned in a single direction – the one she was walking in. Her mane was a mess of tangled locks filled with branches and leaves. Her chitinous hide was ashy grey and smeared with dirt and mud.

As she walked, a stray bolt of green lightning arced off of her horn, hit a bush, and vaporized it instantaneously. When that happened, Applejack winced, and slowed to a halt. Her lips curled and a long, protracted hiss issued through her fangs as he rubbed one temple.

The two watch ponies stared down at her from their vantage point. The youngest of the two lifted his ears as a quiet sound reached him. Was it just his imagination, or was she… muttering to herself?

“Just… to… ink…”

The two stallions looked at each other. “What do we do?” the younger of the two mouthed soundlessly to the other. The older one stared back at him with wide, terrified eyes. Then, an idea occurred to him.

“Run,” he mouthed back.

The greenhorn stared uncomprehendingly back as the older veteran stood up, raised his horn into the air, and with a pulse of magic, fired a brilliant red spell high into the sky.

The fireball sailed hundreds of feet into the air, reach the apex of its arc, and exploded with a deafening bang. It left countless red sparks dancing high in the air that burned long after the initial spell had faded, bathing the forest in a dim, bloody light.

The greenhorn stared in awe at the flare, then quickly remembered the situation. He looked down, and noticed the pair of hungry eyes turned their way.

“Run you fool!” the veteran shouted, lit his horn, and physically tossed the greenhorn from the watchtower. He flailed, yelping as he fell, only to land on all fours.

In a flash, the older of the two bounded down, catching himself with a pulse of counter-thrusting magic. He turned to face the motionless monster still watching them from afar.

“Go on, get out of here! I’ll hold her off as long as I can! Get word back to Captain Steel Shod! Well what are you waiting for, Hearth’s Warming?!”

The greenhorn jolted. “Y-yes sir!” he cried, turned tail, and bolted as fast as his legs could carry him.

Trotter watched him go for a moment, just to make sure he didn’t do something unimaginably stupid like stay behind. Then, he turned back towards the towering changeling in front of him.

He wasn’t under any delusion; anything that could toss trees around like little twigs was far beyond his abilities. But if he could get her to hesitate for even a little bit, he’d gladly pay the ultimate price.

“Well come on, then,” he challenged. “You want a piece of me? You aint gonna get it over there, little missy. Come on!”

Applejack stared him down, her face devoid of expression. Then, her eye twitched.


Her head dropped, her shoulders tightening. As her head lowered, her horn started to buzz and crackle angrily.


Sparks danced up and down her legs. Green light pulsed just beneath the surface, like it was running through her veins. And with each pulse, the ground around her started to vibrate.

“GET AWAY FROM ME!” Applejack roared. The light in her horn condensed, shot down the length of it, through her body, and straight into the ground in the blink of an eye.

All around her, pebbles on the roadway suddenly went careening in every direction away from her. Grass flattened as if pinned down in the most ferocious gale imaginable. Trees bent away from her, roots ripping up out of the earth as they were forced in the opposite direction.

Trotter felt, for just a moment, a wall of solid force crash into him, and suddenly he was flying. The last thing he saw before striking a tree was the sight of his watchtower get blown away, like twigs being swatted by a giant’s hand. In the next instant, his head met solid wood, and he remembered no more.


Steel Shod was halfway down the road from the Guard post when he saw it. He paused, along with the rest of his contingent of troops. Mutters ran up and down the ranks as eyes turned towards the distant sky.

“Is that…?”

“It’s gotta be…”

Steel Shod glared over his shoulder. “Enough,” he snapped. “Everypony, forward march. We’ve got a city to save.”

The small army behind him snapped to attention, bellowed their compliance, then fell into step behind him. Amid their ranks, a large, covered wagon trundled down the sloping trail, axles squeaking and groaning under the weight it bore.

As they marched, Steel Shod turned towards the distant red lights still twinkling in the heavens.


Far to the north, along a moonlit stretch of tracks, a train barreled out of the frozen lands beyond. It steamed full bore, as fast as mechanically and safely feasible. As the Canterlot train station came and went, one pony pressed her face up to the window, a hoof placed firmly against her chest.

“Hang in there, AJ,” Rainbow said to herself. “I’m coming for you.”

Author's Note:

What the? Did I ship Bumblebee with Cloudkicker? Wut?
Well, I have been teasing it for a while, so it's been a thing.

Anyway, just a short one for you this time. I'm really just setting the stage for the following chapters. I'm hoping that by establishing the time as being midnight that I'm subtly implying that time has advanced some, since the sun had just set three chapters ago.

Now then, on to some fun facts!

In this universe, Changeling Behemoths are, for lack of a better description, an undesirable quirk. By essentially igniting all of their emotion-based magic all at once, they grow to incredible sizes and gain an obscene amount of physical strength. Being supercharged by magical energies, they are also very resistant to magical attacks, and thus an unrestrained Behemoth is next to unstoppable.
The tradeoff is that Behemoths are very unstable, and next to uncontrollable once they go all Hulk-mode. That emotion-based magic is a double-edged sword, as it basically removed any inhibitions and thus makes them impulsive in the extreme. They react very strongly to even the slightest of emotional shifts, going from hog wild to scaredy cats in the blink of an eye. And once they are out of magic, the Behemoth reverts to a normal drone-sized individual, leaving them utterly drained of all magic and extremely vulnerable. This transformation is not very easily controlled, as any burst of intense emotion, including high levels of stress, can trigger a Behemoth transformation. In order to keep themselves in control, most suffering from this affliction appear either emotionally detached or actively avoid social interactions.
Most hives do not tolerate such unstable individuals, as one Behemoth losing control can completely spoil hunting grounds, not to mention cause untold damage to their own hives and swarm. As such, most are either put down at an early age, or kept as trump cards in solitary confinement, never to see the light of day.
The only exception was Queen Phantasma, who actually had a use for the brawny juggernauts in her campaign to unite the hives. So what if the body count -- both enemy and friendly -- was high; all Phantasma cared about was the psychological impact it had both on her enemies and her own forces. No one dared oppose or rebel against her, knowing what nightmares she could unleash. It was the only point in changeling history in which Behemoths were treated with any measure of respect, or as anything more than defective burdens on their brothers and sisters.

And thus ends another chapter. The next one will probably take a bit longer to get out there. My second-to-last college semester starts the 22nd, which will slow things down even more. So bare with me, folks; a conclusion to this tale is coming. I promise.

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